A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending September 24, 2004:

Sharon-Netanyahu Showdown Looms


11 September: The controversy over the Israeli prime minister’s disengagement plan is becoming infused with high emotion as both camps raise the stakes in the immediate term. Sharon will brook no suggestion that his plan is stalled and declares nothing on earth will stop the removal of the settlements he has decided to jettison. The settlers and their supporters retort that Sharon is dividing the nation over policies for which he has no mandate from any elected body.

Although the issue is genuinely incendiary, debkafile has been told by its exclusive political sources that much of the fresh heat is sparked by a decision reached by finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu to run against Sharon in the next party primaries as candidate for prime minister. He judges that his moment has arrived.

For five years, the Likud prime minister was unbeatable. This looks like changing. Since he came up with his stubbornly held plan to remove settlements, his popularity has been sliding. Polls held secretly in the last two weeks among the general public show results that reflect the May 1 poll held in the Likud party – with an important difference. A majority does indeed favor disengagement from the Palestinians, but 58 percent are also against the violent uprooting of settlements. Sharon’s attempts to merge the two issues are not accepted.

Where Netanyahu parts ways with the prime minister is in his adherence to traditional Likud tenets, which negate the removal of Jews from their homes in any part of the Land of Israel. In the light of the current mood, he believes he can beat Sharon in a party primary and go on to win a general election as the party’s prime ministerial candidate

If the prime minister is really so sure he enjoys popular support for his plan, as his spokesmen insist, why not hold a general election on the settlement evacuation issue? And why did he reject the proposal advanced this week of a referendum? Above all, knowing what he knows, why is he still hell-bent on pushing down the throat of an unwilling country a policy that is patently divisive and unworkable, at best; dangerous, at worst?

It is this refusal to back off at any price and the Sharon’s sliding popularity that Netanyahu has decided to exploit as a fulcrum for swinging back into the prime minister’s office.


Iraqi Dead Pile up after Ceasefire Talks with Sunnis Break down


15 September: In the last three days, a spiraling wave of violence is focusing on Baghdad, leaving more than 150 Iraqis dead, and fanning out as far as Hilla south of the capital, the Sunni Triangle cities, Kirkuk and the oil pipe junction near Baiji, to the north. Al Qaeda operations chief in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, has used the Internet to claim most of the attacks, once even in his own audio-taped voice. US warplanes have been subjecting Fallujah to almost nightly air strikes. American and Iraqi forces also fought for twelve days to purge the Turkomen town of Tel Afar, west of Mosul in the north, of terrorists.

The fresh flare-up this month stems directly from the breakdown of secret ceasefire negotiations with Sunni Baathist guerrilla commanders launched jointly by the Bush administration and the Allawi government.

Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi told British media interviewers on Monday, September 13, that elections must go ahead in January according to plan even if violence stops Iraqis from voting in some places. If for any reason 300,000 cannot vote – and this is a big if – because terrorists decide so, then 300,000 will not alter 25 million people voting, he said.

In so saying, Allawi admitted that he has no realistic expectation of an end to the current bloodshed by 2005.

But the United States faces an election much sooner. According to debkafile‘s Iraq and intelligence sources, Washington and the interim Iraqi government spent two fruitless months deep in an earnest effort to end the insurgency by engaging the Sunni-Baath leaders on three tracks. In early July, on White House orders, US intelligence flew into Iraq a high-ranking non-Iraqi Arab personage (whose identity is kept secret in the interests of his personal safety). In one of the Sunni Triangle cities he met a number of Sunni and Baath guerrilla chiefs and former generals for talks on an end to the fighting. The Allawi government opened parallel track with the local leaders of Ramadi, Samarra, Fallujah, Balad and Baghdad.

After the Najef confrontation wound down, the senior Iraqi Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, attempted to follow up his success in Nejaf by brokering a similar deal with his Sunni counterpart, Abu Abdullah of Fallujah.

In the last two weeks, all three negotiating tracks broke down after the Iraqi prime minister and Americans turned down Sunni demands for substantial representation and top jobs in various departments, including defense, with a say in state policy decisions.

Since the breakdown of the secret talks, four main battle sectors have emerged, according to debkafile‘s military sources: Baghdad, Fallujah, Tel Afar and Baqouba-Samarra-Ramadi.

Allawi and his military advisers, as well as the American command had originally blocked in their September Offensive as a last resort in case the various negotiating tracks fell apart. They would then force an end to the Sunni guerrilla war once and for all in time to convince

the American voter that the Bush war strategy in Iraq had turned out trumps. However, it now transpires that the Sunnis and al Qaeda’s Iraqi leaders were forewarned in detail of the campaign in store in time to prepare an offensive of their own that will not let up before next January.


Iranian Control of Hamas Opens Gaza Strip to Iranian Surface Missiles


20 September: The missile in the photo with this article is the Luna-2 short-range ground-to-ground missile, known to NATO from Soviet times as FROG-7, which Iran has developed as its Zelzal-2/Mushak-200. In the hands of Iran’s Lebanon-based Revolutionary Guards, it has extended the Iranian-Hizballah’s missile range due south to Israel’s coastal cities of Haifa, Hadera and Netanya. The missile, its launchers and infrastructure are well-hidden in special storehouses in the port town of Sidon in the care of Revolutionary Guards specialist teams. A Lebanese urban center was chosen for their hiding places to reduce the weapon’s vulnerability to an Israeli air strike. With Tehran already issuing operational orders to the Palestinian Hamas fundamentalist terrorist group, it is only a question of time before these missiles are transferred to the Gaza Strip, so bringing southern Israel, Tel Aviv and the cities in between, such as Rehovot, Rishon Lezion and Ashdod, within striking range.

This looming menace finally drove Shin Beit Director Avi Dichter and IDF chiefs this week to openly challenge prime minister Ariel Sharon’s plans for the removal of Israeli settlements and military units from the Gaza Strip in the framework of his disengagement blueprint.

According to debkafile‘s military sources, Zelzal-2/Mushak-200 is 8.3 meters long with an estimated range of between 100 and 400 km – effective most probably at 200 km. It is armed with a 600 kg warhead. Iran is known to have developed chemical and biological payloads but not to have located them in Lebanon. On the other hand, intelligence sources estimate that Syria has perfected the right chemical warheads for attachment to the Zelzal missiles deployed in Lebanon and they can be fitted within hours. These weapons may be delivered through the Palestinian gunrunning routes from Sinai into the Gaza Strip whenever the rulers of Iran and Syria so decide.


Sharon: Prepare to Evacuate under fire!


September 19: The simmering argument between Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon and Israel’s military chiefs over the feasibility of his evacuation plan came to a head at the Israeli cabinet meeting Sunday, September 19. Sharon finally admitted that which the military, security and police chiefs – as well as debkafile – have been saying for months: the unilateral evacuation of some 9,000 Israelis living in the Gaza Strip cannot be accomplished without a substantial cost in military and civilian lives. Conditions on the ground, say these authorities, make disengagement unfeasible.

But the conclusion they elicited from the prime minister was unexpected: I am sticking to my disengagement guns and not budging one whit from my timetable. It is up to the military to make it possible; they had better start preparing for evacuation under enemy fire.

As reported previously by debkafile, the Palestinians are in the midst of massive preparations, including training special operations units and procurement of fresh supplies of upgraded weapons, for hammering the evacuating forces and Gush Katif evacuees and making the operation a bloodbath. With the onus of a predictable disaster on their heads, Israel’s military and security chiefs explain: If this plan goes ahead, it will not be disengagement, but total war, a tornado of terrorist attacks, gunfire and missiles blasting the Gaza Strip, the western and southern Negev and Gush Katif. Instead of pulling back, the army will be forced to drive back into the large sections of the Gaza Strip controlled by Palestinians in order to subdue their war offensive. Many lives will be lost in these maneuvers.


Zarqawi Is Using Hostages to Ransom Old Friends, Drs Germ and Anthrax


21 September: The dreadful moment – 2:44 am Iraqi time on Tuesday September 20 – when the Jordanian terrorist Musab al-Zarqawi applied a knife to the 53-year old American construction worker, Eugene Armstrong, from Hillsdale, Michigan, was meticulously recorded on one of al Qaeda’s unspeakable videotapes for broadcast. US sound experts who checked the tape identified the voice reading the short statement before the “execution” as belonging to the masked man who dictated the terms for freeing all three hostages on the tape released soon after their capture, namely Zarqawi in person. Why Zarqawi attaches so much importance to securing the release of the only five Iraqi women left in American hands is answered here:

1. Zarqawi reckons that if he keeps on snatching hostages and meting out the same barbaric treatment as he did to Eugene Armstrong on a series of videotapes, public pressure will build up and force the two Western leaders to put a stop to the savage slaughter by abandoning their dogged resistance to the hostage-takers’ demands and setting the women free. Such surrender would then be hailed as a major triumph for the al Qaeda terrorist chief and augur a rising scale of increasingly steep demands.

2. The women held by the Americans include two senior scientists attached to Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program: Dr. Rihab Taha, a microbiologist known as Dr. Germ, and Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, head of his anthrax project and member of the Baath ruling command council.

Syria handed the two women over to the Americans on April 28, 2003, together with Dr. Taha’s husband, Gen. Amir Muhammed Rashed, director of Iraq’s missile development program – as first revealed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly 107 five days later, on May 2, 2003.

According to debkafile‘s intelligence sources, Zarqawi has been tipped off that one of the two Iraqi scientists is on the point of breaking under questioning and spilling the beans on Saddam’s WMD to her American interrogators. He therefore interceded by seizing the three Western hostages, either to gain her release or scare her into holding silent.

A poisons expert himself, the Jordanian terror master frequently passed through Baghdad in the years 1998 and 2002 on his way to the biological and chemical weapons laboratories made available to al Qaeda in the northern Iraqi town of Biyara. He may even have been supplied with equipment, materials and instruction manuals by those very women. In any case, their loss would put paid once and for all to the Bush administration’s best chance of obtaining evidence to prove Saddam Hussein was running an active banned weapons program.

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